This is an exercise inspired by Natalie Goldberg, who suggested in Writing Down the Bones that obsessions make a good source of inspiration. I tried to write about my own obsessions, and couldn’t make anything come out. Joe was practicing “Ultimate Street Fighter Four” in the other room; lately it’s been his obsession to master the game. I remembered something one of my friends had complained about years ago, when her boyfriend was obsessing over another game: “I swear, any day now he’s going to leave me for ‘Final Fantasy XII!'” So, I wrote about that, using the obsession and anxiety we all feel for and about our significant others. Funny thing is, after I wrote this, I realized my own obsession with literature played out more than anything else.
As always, enjoy!
My boyfriend Albert left me for a video game character whose breasts defy physics.
I shouldn’t have taken that crack at her breasts. She’s not a bad person, considering that she’s from a fighting game. Yuki—Albert’s new girlfriend—uses ninja techniques to take down agents from an evil corporation bent on enslaving humanity. Not really that bad a person—even with her home-wrecker status, she’s a lot more selfless than I am. I just work in a bookstore and whine about narcissistic assholes who happen to be our customers. I can see why Albert left me for Yuki.
It’s partially my fault. Albert wanted me to be a part of the “Final Fighter” world. He tried to get me to play it with him, but after a few goes I quit. I was more comfortable with characters like David Copperfield, Oedipa Maas, or John Joseph Yossarian than I was with shallow dramatis personae whose bodies defied logic almost as much as their back stories.
When it became clear I wasn’t going to play “Final Fighter” with him, he tried telling me about it. He would ramble on for hours, detailing specific mechanics of how to fight and what moves would work and when. I tried to listen, tried to keep my hands in my lap and off a novel, tried to look at him and focus on what he was saying instead of letting my mind wander to what I had read and what I would read next.
He started talking about Yuki around the same time I’d stopped trying to care about “Final Fighter.” He told me her history (flat and cliché) and about her personality (predictable).
“You’d really like her,” he said. “She’s fun to play with, and she’s really witty and strong.”
“I’m sure she is,” I’d say, before grabbing a book and ending the conversation.
To be fair, Albert never even tried to get along with fiction, let alone my favorites. I didn’t bother introducing him to Elizabeth Bennet until zombies got involved. He couldn’t find any sort of common ground with Gilbert Grape, even though they’re both from small town Iowa. Albert couldn’t even get along with Candid—the quote-unquote “youth endowed by nature with the gentlest characteristics”—meaning the easiest person to hang out with. It’s not like I asked him to chill with Alex from A Clockwork Orange; though in vengeful retrospect I almost wished I had.
I should’ve been suspicious when Albert didn’t just play “Final Fighter” with Yuki. He began hanging out with her, going to lunch with her, seeing movies with her that I had no interest in . . . until one day, I was confronted by Albert and the digital Yuki. He told me he was moving out to be Yuki’s in-game boyfriend, to support her and occasionally get kidnapped so she’d have people to fight in order to rescue him. He said we just weren’t right for each other, and this would be better for me in the long run. Yuki looked pitying—she invited me to visit them in-game any time, any time at all. She’d even teach me to fight. When I said nothing, they looked at each other—sadly. Then Yuki had Albert leave.
“Okay,” she said, and fell into a fighting stance. “Obviously, this will be the best way for you to blow off steam. Let’s resolve this quick, so we can be friends!” I don’t know how long I stared at her before she finally drew back from her stance. “What’s wrong?” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you.”
I looked at my hands so I wouldn’t have to see her simplistic and honest confusion. “I’m not going to forgive you by punching you a few times . . .” I said.
She just shrugged. “Suit yourself. But the offer still stands . . . and, of course, you’re always invited to visit!” She winked and gave me the Japanese peace sign before leaving after Albert.
“Coward,” I said after she left. “Your game is for cowards.”
Sometimes, though, I wonder if Albert didn’t pick better company with video games like “Final Fighter.” The characters of good literature are more interesting, sure—but the people who inhabit the realm of video games (be they 8-bit or HD) are more pure. Not necessarily better, not even necessarily good; but everything they do is unclouded by nuance or self-conflict—they just are, and they are pure. My friends in literature are almost worse than my friends in life—they’re caught up in their own stories. They’re not just good, or just bad. Their motivations are shrouded, sometimes even to themselves. They can’t stop for me. The most they can give is a few words, before moving on.
Maybe it’s enough. Maybe it isn’t. But it’s what I have—it’s all I have.